Turkey fighting for coveted Olympic quota places in Antalya

Yasemin Anagoz watches Mete Gazoz shoot at the Tokyo 2020 Test Event.

Her scores are higher. Her averages are better.

“I am way better than the old version of me,” said reigning European Champion Yasemin Anagoz, who will attempt to both defend her title and book an Olympic quota this week in Antalya.

The recurve woman from Turkey set a personal best for qualification at the second European Grand Prix in April, shooting a score of 670 points on her way to the top seed.

Back on the field at which the Turkish team usually trains for this week’s competition, Anagoz – and fellow Olympic hopeful Mete Gazoz – will look to duplicate past success on Friday at the penultimate opportunity to secure tickets to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

“I’m just happy that it finally has arrived,” Anagoz said. “I’ve been ready for two years. Now it’s time to show it.”

There are eight quota places for the Olympics available in Antalya – four for men and four for women – with a maximum of one quota place per gender per nation.

Anagoz and Gazoz headline a group of archers with credentials that would make them favourites to achieve big things in Japan – if they had already qualified. But with 85 recurve men and 51 recurve women competing for the scarce few spots that remain, a number of archers are destined to come away from Turkey empty-handed. 

“I’ve never seen a European Championships with this many strong archers who don’t have any quota places yet,” Turkish coach Goktug Ergin said. “It’s really tough, but it’s not tough only for us. It’s tough for everyone. The competition will be difficult, but I am confident we will succeed.”

Turkey’s lack of quota places this close to the Games isn’t necessarily reflective of the team’s performances, Ergin said. Rather, its archers have been the victim of unfortunate seeding and poorly timed upsets that are inevitable in the matchplay format that the sport uses internationally. 

A shoot-off loss to Australia in the second round of the 2019 Hyundai World Archery Championships in ’s-Hertogenbosch squandered an optimal opportunity for the recurve men’s team to qualify.

Gazoz, the world number two, shot four points off his best and a European record at the same leg of the European Grand Prix as Anagoz. They both made their Olympic debuts as teenagers at Rio 2016, and both consider themselves significantly stronger shooters than they were five years ago. And yet they still find themselves without quota places.

Whatever the reason, they are running out of time. 

“It makes me really angry when I shoot all of my arrows into the yellow, average 28 points per end and still lose,” Anagoz said. “You think, ‘how could this happen?’ You’re looking at other targets and the arrows are everywhere, and you’re shooting among the best in the field, but you’re the second-best on your side.”

“It’s about luck, and luck is coming from energy and nature,” she continued. “If you don’t believe in energy or spiritual things, you can get kind of crazy.”

Yasemin Anagoz shoots at the Antalya 2021 European Grand Prix.

There is a belief within the Turkish archery team that their unrealised pursuit of quota places could serve as an advantage in Japan. While athletes with their spots already secured were tasked with maintaining focus and fighting complacency during the year without competition, Turkey has had a more immediate goal to work towards. The added layer of incentives has only fuelled their training. 

That edge is contingent on actually claiming the quota places, of course, but it is an outlook that has given the team assurance in the face of diminishing odds and increased uncertainty.

“Spiritually, if I won the quota two years ago, maybe I wouldn’t have worked as hard,” Anagoz said. “To get a medal, and before that a quota, maybe this is what I actually need.”

Speculation will soon make way for reality when the qualification tournament takes place on Friday. Turkey is well-positioned to seize the coveted quota places, but they know it won’t be easy.

This is their moment. Their goal is in front of them, and their directions are clear.

“Only the strongest will win,” Gazoz said. “No one is going to give me the quota. I have to take it.”